College student Bret Easton Ellis shook up the 1980s literary scene with his bleak and brutal debut, Less Than Zero (1985), which follows a group of spoiled, dissolute California teens as they negotiate the amoral wasteland of upscale Los Angeles. Ellis, now a renowned novelist (American Psycho ), revisits these troubled characters decades later as they enter middle age. Also reviewed: Lunar Park ( Nov/Dec 2005).
The Story: Twenty-five years after he fled the depraved party culture of his youth, Clay returns to Los Angeles. A successful New York City screenwriter, he has come back to cast his new movie, and he wastes no time reconnecting with old acquaintances--his girlfriend Blair, now married to Trent; his best friend Julian; and his sociopathic drug dealer, Rip--and old habits. Reeling, drink in hand, from one tediously debauched party to the next, Clay seduces young Hollywood hopefuls with promises of stardom. Suddenly, threatening texts from blocked numbers, a mysterious Jeep trailing him through the city, and a pretty starlet with shadowy ties to a recent murder convince him that he is in grave danger.
Knopf. 192 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 9780307266101
"Imperial Bedrooms is a page-turning read on its own, but knowledge of the earlier book enriches it. ... While seeming to revel in excess and violence, long breathless sentences and fancy brand names, Ellis is showing us what has changed in 25 years--not just in his characters or in Hollywood but in America and maybe the world." Michael McGregor
Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Less Than Zero is a mesmerizing novel about repulsive characters, an interesting place to visit. Imperial Bedrooms, on the other hand, is an ordinary noir tale." Bill Eichenberger
Dallas Morning News
"When he took the reader to the dark side the first time around, it was a place few had seen or even heard about. This time around, the dark side is a place that, thanks to media and technology, is hard to get away from. Thus what once seemed new and edgy now feels worn out and obvious." Tom Maurstad
Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel
"Once Ellis reintroduces these characters and puts them on their feet, he doesn’t know what to do with them and therefore can’t make them move--or make them moving. As a result, we’re treated to yet another iteration of the same increasingly tired story Ellis has been telling from the beginning, featuring over-exposed views of a dystopian Los Angeles in which networking is really about narcissism, sex is about power, mutilated bodies are inevitable and everyone wears sunglasses." Mike Fischer
New York Times
"Despite Chip Kidd’s cover art, which features a traffic-stopping satanic image and Mr. Ellis’s name in the book-jacket equivalent of big red neon letters, Imperial Bedrooms is without shock value. It’s a work of limited imagination that all too deftly simulates the effects of having no imagination at all." Janet Maslin
San Francisco Chronicle
"Here are the short choppy chapters; the flat run-on passages; the authorial ennui and banal recitation of brand names--all of which felt fresh when he premiered them in Less Than Zero and now have been cribbed by two decades worth of Comp Lit majors. ... Thematically, Ellis may be treading similar ground--exploring the emotional vacuity of a culture of consumption--but any point he still has to make about that feels like it’s already been covered (to death) by subsequent generations of authors, filmmakers, songwriters, artists and music video directors." Janelle Brown
Wall Street Journal
"Imperial Bedrooms--the book’s title refers to an Elvis Costello album--is weak in concept and uninspired, mere sequelism. ... The cult of spoiled bohemianism that has given [Ellis] his propers--the almost insolent daring, the excess even--has given way to a dull, stricken, under-medicated nonstory that goes nowhere." Alexander Theroux
While critics fondly recalled Ellis’s groundbreaking debut, they denounced this follow-up, although equally grim, as repetitive and trite. "Who needs to read fictionalized accounts of the rich and wasted when we are constantly bombarded by the real thing?" demands the Dallas Morning News. Part of the way through Ellis’s reexploration of Hollywood’s moral vacuum, "the book develops genre aspirations" (New York Times) and expands into a lackluster whodunit--ostensibly a tribute to Raymond Chandler, but also, perhaps, an acknowledgment that the story lacks the power it had in 1985. One-dimensional characters and gratuitous violence blight the story further. Readers who cherished Less Than Zero will have to decide how much they really want to catch up with Clay, Blair, Julian, and Rip.